Forget Colonization. The UAE Plans to Build a City on Mars by 2117

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The US, Russia, China, India, the EU, and even private companies are in a race to colonize Mars. There are lots of technical things to work out, from food supply to protection from solar radiation. Though few smaller countries have jumped into the Mars race thus far, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), is looking far beyond planting a flag or a few threadbare shelters. Their motto seems to be, go big or go home. The country recently released its plan to build a futuristic city on the Red Planet by 2117. The proposal and accompanying images look like something ripped out of the pages of a sci-fi novel.

The UAE is a collective, an oil rich federation of seven smaller states. They are late coming to the space race. But the country developed extremely quickly, from a Gulf backwater to one of the richest and most developed countries in the region, in less than half a century.

A rustic, pearl diving village a little over 40 years ago, Dubai today is a glittering metropolis full of modern skyscrapers. It even boasts the world’s tallest. This financial hub of the region hosts impressive sites including an archipelago of manmade, palm islands, “The World” islands, and the planet’s largest indoor ski resort, among others. Read into this, maybe they can pull it off.

The UAE launched its space program in 2014. Though a newcomer, if the country’s development is any indication, it could become a major player in the next great space race. The Emeriti agency plans to work with their British and French counterparts, beginning next year, in order to send up an unmanned Mars probe named “Hope,” by 2021, reaching the Red Planet two years later. The Martian city announcement was made recently at the World Government Summit in Dubai. Visitors were able to gaze at a 3D model of the proposed city.

Model of the city. HH Sheikh Mohammed via Twitter.

Entering into the space race adds cache to…

NASA Is Looking to Make a Mobile Water Factory on the Moon

Water has long been the limiting factor for humans in space. But now, NASA is developing a rover that can make water on the Moon. Such a capability will be necessary for any serious attempt at the permanent settlement of Mars, or any other long-term space voyage. If successful, it will inaugurate a new, critical area in space exploration, where resources from other worlds can be harnessed and used.

Presently, everything we use in space is made on Earth. Consider the big, visible parts of human exploration of the solar system, rockets like the Space Launch System (SLS), under construction and set for its maiden voyage in 2018. There’s also the Orion capsule, tested previously and set to fly atop SLS (without astronauts). Then there’s work on habitats: Scientists are currently working on manufacturing artificial habitats for the International Space Station, but soon will be working on one for the Martian surface. A huge part of this kind of pioneering the solar system, however, concerns not just what we bring to other worlds, but what we leave behind. The Lunar Resource Prospector is the first big step in striking that balance.

The real problem of colonization is mass. It’s very expensive to send something to space, and the heavier it is, the more it costs. It takes hundreds of kilograms on the launch pad to put a single kilogram on the surface of Mars, and Martian settlers will need many, many metric tons of commodities to survive. Practically speaking, they can’t take everything they will need from Earth. To colonize the solar system, they will have to learn how to use the resources of the solar system.

The good news is that everything in the solar system is a potential resource for settlers. In-situ resource utilization, or ISRU, is the concept of mining resources on other worlds and turning them into useful commodities, as well as recycling waste created on other worlds. (Waste conversion solves two problems: It creates new useful things and eliminates garbage. The ISS dumps its garbage, allowing it to burn up in the atmosphere. But surface dwellers on Mars won’t have such a convenient disposal service.)

Energy is an important part of ISRU, and from a settlement perspective, energy is very cheap. The Sun is a giant fusion reactor in the sky, after all, and to harness it, all pioneers need are a few solar panels that they bring from home. Those panels will provide energy for a very long time—energy that can be used for ISRU.

Mars is the most likely current spot for future human settlement, so consider what resources might be available there: Settlers could extract oxygen from Mars’s soil, known as regolith. Water could be extracted from volatiles in the soil, essentially baking them off. There is also carbon dioxide in the Martian atmosphere. Combine carbon with electrolyzed water and settlers can make methane, which could be used as fuel.

Settlers won’t need to take building material to Mars; they could easily glue soil together and make bricks. Metals could also be extracted from Martian regolith to build things. Because Mars is rich with carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen, settlers could even make plastic. What would they build first? Probably greenhouses, for starters. Growing crops for food will also be useful for water purification and oxygen generation.


What’s up with That Strange Octopus on Mars?

Are crazy octopus aliens hiding out on Mars?

Is this where Crab People come from?

Photo Credit: South Park Studios

Or is that maybe a sideways Sarlacc pit?

Probably not.

I think that person did some Photoshopping.

I did a bit of cropping:

And brightening:

And I still don’t end up with an alien.

It definitely looks weird, but I’m not seeing an alien.

People have been seeing aliens in things for ages:

There’s a name for the phenomenon.

Things like this:

That’s a 1976 photo taken from the Viking 1 explorer of…